Boks need to show 'mental toughness'
As acid tests go, this has got to be one of the toughest in world rugby, but Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer knows Saturday’s Castle Lager Rugby Championship battle with Australia in Brisbane will be the perfect test to determine just how far his team has come.
Meyer has been very vocal in the past few months about what his team have achieved, feeling at times that fans back home simply expect the Boks to win away from home without taking into account how difficult it is for any side to win away.
Faced with a monumental task of overturning history by trying to secure the Boks' first win at Suncorp Stadium, the Bok coach was quite adamant about what his side needs to do.
Meyer looked confident and gave an honest assessment about his team’s chances, especially against a side they have only beaten once in their last seven outings -- and never in seven games at Suncorp Stadium.
“We don’t want to focus on that (record). This year we won for the first time in Soweto as well as in Mendoza. I don’t want to sound arrogant; it’s just a new game. It is always very tough against the Wallabies. I think in the last seven games, we’ve only won one – and that was the last one,” Meyer admitted.
“You can’t look at negatives, because then you shift your focus and I believe in positive mental energies. It just makes it more of a challenge, and it needs more motivation and it gets you more excited. You have to be mentally tough. I rather see it as a great challenge; it’s just another field and another game.”
Meyer is certain his side have taken steps forward in the last 12 months, growing together and overcoming adversity to end their November tour unbeaten. Add to that a frustrating, but in the end decent win in Mendoza and they now face a tough Australian side.
Considering they are up against the odds, and will start as firm underdogs on Saturday, you wouldn’t really say it from the attitude. And that is the big key this week. Belief is everything if this Bok team wants to win in Brisbane. To do that, they need to show belief – both in the systems, the game plan, the defensive pattern and, above all, that they can overcome the bogey of Suncorp.
Meyer believes that his team has grown a lot, but that the players will need a special mental toughness this weekend if they are to come out on the winning side.
“I don’t think we’re there yet. It’s our second year together but we’ve really made a step-up from last year I believe. Games like this are always tough, and it’s always tough no matter what team you play. You have to be very clinical. It is not just about being excited, getting emotionally worked up. In the old days that probably worked, but in the modern game defenses are unbreakable, set-pieces are good on both sides and they (the Aussies) have been playing some great rugby.
“It’s just a matter of being focused and executing the game plan, and absorbing the pressure. I believe we’ve grown, but nothing that happened before really matters. It only matters when we go out onto the field for those 80 minutes.”
While things normally go well for the Boks back home, Meyer is adamant that the team need to create their own luck overseas. On the Highveld with quick ball the Boks are hard to stop, but he makes a solid point about away from home the real test comes. This is where the Boks need to show that mental toughness. They need to ensure they make the little things go their way.
In the end those small differences can make a game, and if you want to win in Australia and New Zealand, you can be sure you need the small decisions to go your way.
The Boks know this pretty well. They know they have to be at the top of their game and disrupt Australia's free-flowing pattern. After all, a pressure game is only as good as its execution.
“We always play well on the Highveld. We get quick ball there and it is usually a quick game. People may not think it but we do want to have quick ball to attack with and we do want to play a quick game. I’m really happy that we have brought that into our game,” Meyer added.
“We’ve scored the most tries this year, although the other teams have played against tougher defences, so it is difficult to read too much into that. I’m happy with the amount of tries we have scored. We are growing as a team, and usually when you get quick ball on the Highveld, you can score tries.
“I always believe that away from home it is more of an arm wrestle. At home on the Highveld, it is more of a continuity game and you get that continuity. Away from home it is more of a contesting game where you get the teams contesting every single lineout, so we have to be disciplined.
“It is more of an arm wrestle and we have to be clinical. The one thing we are getting to is that we can change our game plan now. I know a lot of people don’t think we have a game plan back in South Africa, but we’ve started to change it and mix it up.
“But by saying that on Saturday, I don’t care how we do it. As long as we win I’ll be happy.”